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Two players face off in a basketball game at a park in this image from 20th Century Fox.
Getting cooked at the park is a humbling experience for any basketball player in real life and in movies like “White Men Can't Jump.” (Image: 20th Century Fox)

As rapper Kurtis Blow once said: “Basketball is my favorite sport.” I’m a huge fan of the energy, personality, and thrills that every basketball game brings. I’m not the only one, either. NBA and NCAA basketball draw huge audiences; filmmakers love basketball, too — many turn to the game as inspiration for their craft.

Let’s count down some of the best basketball movies of all time to watch in between games.

10. ‘Space Jam’ (1996)

Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny stand in a locker room in this image from Warner Bros. Feature Animation.
It’s no surprise that Bugs Bunny has the “hops” for basketball. (Image: Warner Bros. Feature Animation)

For many children of the ‘90s, “Space Jam” is the definitive basketball movie of their youth. Set during Michael Jordan’s first retirement, the film follows a fictionalized version of the basketball legend as he has to help the Looney Tunes reclaim their freedom from a greedy theme park owner (voiced by Danny DeVito).

The film contains all of the slapstick action one would expect from a Looney Tunes cartoon, mixed with the flair and glamour of the NBA. It’s still hilarious, and Jordan turns in a surprisingly great performance as a heightened version of himself — poking fun at his maniacal need to win and willing to be on the receiving end of some Looney Tune shenanigans.

“Space Jam” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

9. ‘Semi-Pro’ (2008)

A basketball team celebrates on the court in this image from Mosaic Media Group.
“Semi-Pro” proves basketball can be a great source of comedy, too. (Image: Mosaic Media Group)

Among Will Ferrell’s dominant 2000s run of cinematic comedies, “Semi-Pro” does not get nearly enough love. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner and player for a semi-professional basketball team called the Flint Tropics (making it a personal favorite of mine as a Michigan native). The team is in danger of breaking up as their league is set to be absorbed by the NBA, so Moon rallies his teammates to prevent this fate.

There are a ton of great basketball gags in this one, including an interesting interpretation of the invention of the alley-oop. The rest of the cast, which includes “White Men Can't Jump” star Woody Harrelson (see below), André 3000, and Will Arnett, is on its comedy A-game, with jokes and quips flying as fast as passes.

“Semi-Pro” is available to stream now on Max.

8. ‘Hustle’ (2022)

A scout gives instructions to a basketball player in this image from Happy Madison Productions.
“Hustle” is so inspiring, it makes even me want to try to make the NBA. (Image: Happy Madison Productions)

In the last few years, Adam Sandler has proven he has dramatic acting chops to go along with his long history of comedic films; this is evidenced from 2019’s basketball-adjacent “Uncut Gems” to a personal favorite, 2022’s “Hustle.”

In the latter, Sandler plays a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who has been routinely passed by and overlooked by the organization. He finds a Spanish basketball player named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez) whom he identifies as a fellow underdog, and makes it his mission to get Cruz into the NBA. It’s an inspiring, feel-good story that also illustrates how much of a social media, personality-driven league the NBA has become; it has plot points involving Cruz going viral to help boost his profile.

“Hustle” is streaming now on Netflix.

7. ‘Air Bud’ (1997)

A boys basketball team embraces a dog in this image from Keystone Pictures.
I’d be a little humbled if a dog on my team was a better basketball player than me. (Image: Keystone Pictures)

No movie has done more for animals in sports than “Air Bud.” Buddy is the blueprint, the LeBron James of canine hoops. He is the GOAT, and it is not up for dispute.

You probably know how this classic movie goes, but let’s recap it anyway. Buddy is found by the young Josh (Kevin Zegers), who quickly discovers the dog has hops. From there, it only makes sense to include Buddy on Josh's basketball team. The film is genuinely a great time, with a number of big laughs. In the ensuing years and subsequent movies, Buddy branches out into more sports, building a dynasty unrivaled by any other athlete on the planet.

“Air Bud” is available to stream on Disney+.

6. ‘Above the Rim’ (1994)

A man smoking a cigar stands with his crew in this image from New Line Cinema.
As you watch “Above the Rim,” Birdie (Tupac Shakur) will send chills down your spine. (Image: New Line Cinema)

“Above the Rim” is a great sports film. The story of high school standout Kyle (Duane Martin) trying to stay on the straight and narrow while being pressured over a park basketball tournament is a compelling drama and moves at a breathtaking pace. But the real reason this movie is on my list is because of the performance by Tupac Shakur as the film’s villain, Birdie.

The late Shakur’s magnetism was not limited to his music. He was a phenomenal actor, especially when he was asked to play the bad guy. All of the charm and confidence that made him beloved in the music world and beyond is still on display as Birdie; however, Shakur can mix that charisma with icy steel, resulting in one of the most quietly threatening characters I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterful performance — one that makes “Above the Rim” appointment viewing.

“Above the Rim” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

5. ‘Glory Road’ (2006)

A basketball team rallies themselves in a huddle in this image from Walt Disney Pictures.
“Glory Road” tells the story of an important moment in basketball history. (Image: Walt Disney Pictures)

Growing up, “Glory Road” was a staple in my high school for many of the coaches-turned-teachers to put on when they didn’t have a lesson plan for the day. They knew what they were doing, though, as “Glory Road” remains a personal favorite of mine all these years later.

Telling the true story of the 1966 Texas Western College basketball team, “Glory Road” is a look at a pivotal point in basketball history. In an era steeped in racism, the Miners basketball team was the first to win an NCAA championship with an all-Black starting lineup. Those looking for basketball action won’t be disappointed, as the film stays remarkably close to historical accounts of the Miners games. It also does not shy away from what the team faced; it shows shocking displays of racism and discrimination that are important to see to understand how the worst sides of sports are not so far removed from our very ugly past.

“Glory Road” is currently streaming on Disney+.

4. ‘Love & Basketball’ (2000)

A young couple embraces while lying in the grass in this image from 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks.
Romance blooms on and off the court in “Love & Basketball.” (Image: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks)

I love basketball, and I love love. Lucky for me, one of the best basketball movies ever happens to be called “Love & Basketball,” and it’s about those two things. Like many of the films on this list, “Love & Basketball” illustrates how basketball can be a conduit to so many other aspects of life.

Quincy (Omar Epps) and Monica (Sanaa Lathan) are childhood friends and basketball players, two attributes that intertwine their entire lives. The movie cleverly echoes the format of basketball by dividing its runtime into four quarters, each set years apart as we see how Quincy and Monica’s basketball careers and relationship grow and change. Besides being incredibly romantic, the film also offers pretty progressive views on women’s sports and their lack of institutional support, especially in the days before the WNBA.

“Love & Basketball” is streaming now on Netflix.

3. ‘Coach Carter’ (2005)

A coach instructs his team in a library in this image from MTV Films.
Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) will not let his players down, no matter how much they struggle. (Image: MTV Films)

Another high school motivational classic is “Coach Carter.” As I learned here, it turns out that sometimes basketball isn’t about basketball at all, but rather, more important lessons. It's also another film based on true events and carried by some truly iconic performances across the board.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the titular Coach Carter, who’s brought in to coach a talented but disrespectful and academically struggling high school basketball team. While at first his strict rules and no-nonsense attitude receive pushback, slowly the players begin to buy in and improve themselves on the court and in the classroom as well. The supporting cast is rounded out by a young Channing Tatum, Octavia Spencer, and Ashanti, who all shine in their roles.

“Coach Carter” is now streaming on Paramount+.


Behind the Scenes: “Coach Carter” was co-written by the creator of the basketball-focused “One Tree Hill” and also shares the same producers as the sports series.

2. ‘He Got Game’ (1998)

Two men sit on a bench at a basketball court in this image from Touchstone Pictures.
“He Got Game” is a father-son tale unlike any other. (Image: Touchstone Pictures)

As perhaps the most well-known New York Knicks fan in the world, it’s no surprise that Spike Lee wrote, directed, and produced an excellent basketball film. “He Got Game” is a rich and thematically packed movie, with Lee bringing his eye for both personal and societal drama onto the basketball court.

Denzel Washington plays Jake Shuttlesworth, a prisoner granted temporary release by the governor to convince his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), to play for the governor’s former college. Washington and Allen have a gripping on-screen relationship, full of nuance and tension. Lee deftly touches on many issues throughout the film, from the carceral state to the commodification of college athletics. It all melds into a stunning work that reveals new layers on each rewatch.

“He Got Game” is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video.

1. ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (1992)

Two basketball teammates banter back and forth in this image from 20th Century Fox.
I could listen to the dialogue of “White Men Can’t Jump” on a loop. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

“White Men Can’t Jump” is by far my favorite basketball movie and, thus, gets the top spot on this list. Every single thing about it is perfect. The film follows Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson), a white streetball player who hustles other players out of their money, and Syd Deane (Wesley Snipes), who joins in on Billy’s scheme after falling victim to it.

The whole movie is hilarious, the banter between Billy and Syd is top-notch, and the film does a great job of capturing the streetball culture of the ‘90s. It’s also novel in its ending, which I will not spoil — except to say it goes against the usual movie trope that the hero can ultimately have everything. Add to this a side plot about Billy’s girlfriend, Gloria (Rosie Perez), going on “Jeopardy!,” my favorite game show ever, and you have a winner.

“White Men Can’t Jump” is streaming now on Max.

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